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Just another European country






Mega Fix


TWA Flight 800






My favorite picture of our two daughters I took in Galway, Ireland in 1992. The photo captures them, seven and twelve respectively, on their way to school, each looking smart and proper in her jumper, sweater and natty little tie.

In the Ireland of 2005, you would have to look mighty hard to find this kind of imagery. In this, the age of the automobile, ample discretionary income, and open rebellion against the old order, schoolgirls wear slacks now, uniform only in their slovenliness and their increasing broadness abeam.

The girls are symptom of Ireland’s mindless rush to become just another European country. As rumored, the Republic has indeed changed. If you are planning on visiting, you had better get there soon. If not, save your time and money and go to the Oak Park Mall. The cultural payoff will be roughly comparable.

Part of the change—the good part—I helped will to fruition in an exceedingly minor way. When we lived there in 1992-1993, I wrote an article for an Irish publication following the “catastrophic” closing of an 1100-employee Digital plant in Galway.

Just months after giving Labor its greatest vote in memory, many citizens nationwide have begun to rethink the government's socialist drift. On the talk shows this week, callers have publicly challenged shibboleths that are rarely ever voiced, let alone questioned: a "massive black economy" spurred on by a VAT as high as 21%; the six percent differential between Ireland and Britian on business "social contributions"; the correlation between a generous dole and 16% unemployment; the tax burden on workers; the dogged interference of Irish unions; the relatively higher cost of Irish wages; in sum, the "unattractiveness of employing anyone" as one Irish business man put it.

“The big question for the government,” I asked in my 1993 article, “is whether it will let its people work or--as history might predict--let its people go.” The government surprised me and confounded history by favoring industry over emigration. It lowered the corporate income tax, cut the capital gains tax in half, kept the unions in check, and began to deregulate. With an educated, English-speaking workforce, Ireland could now serve as the perfect American gateway to doing business in Europe and, increasingly, as a self-generating economic engine.

In1994, with change in the air, a pundit called the Irish economy the “Celtic Tiger” in a jesting reference to the Tigers of Southeast Asia. Within a few years, there was no reason to jest. The GDP grew at an annual rate of 10.8% in 1997, 8.7% in 1998, and an eye-popping 11.1% in 1999. By century’s end the unemployment rate had dropped to 4%, and since then, the economy has continued to grow at more than 6% a year. Unthinkable just a decade ago, the average Irish worker out-earns his British counterpart, and for the first time in history, more workers immigrate to Ireland than emigrate from.

Other than big butts, the most visible manifestation of this prosperity is the automobile. Their numbers have tripled since 1990. In that same period, the roads have improved only a wee bit. In greater Galway, which I revisited this fall, there are no more than ten miles of four-lane highways. Even the national highways offer only one lane in either direction, typically shoulder-less, often perilously narrow, and occasionally slowed to a crawl by a tractor or some rogue sheep. Many of the rural roads have just one lane, period.

On the up side, the bad roads preserve the integrity of the deep countryside and even of the small towns since getting out of or into anywhere is so daunting. On the down side, drivers spend an unholy amount of time in traffic snarls and consume a lot of $5.35 a gallon gasoline. Although the country is losing its impoverished charm, I am not one to begrudge an Irishman his car or his prosperity. A free people make free choices, and a car makes sense regardless of the traffic. Besides, it’s not the automobile that is undoing Ireland.

Even before the Celtic Tiger started to growl, the Irish media and cultural elite had yielded to the sweet siren song of international progressivism. Embarrassed by Ireland’s traditional values, these influential folks imported the whole enchilada of new values concocted in the U.S. and codified in the E.U.--unrestricted sexual freedom, radical feminism, gay rights, divorce, alternative family structure, even anti-Americanism. With their lock on what the Irish hear and read, they have largely shamed their fellow citizens into acceptance or silence.

In the zero-sum spirit of this imported agenda, the chattering classes have had to identify an internal enemy to rebel against. In Britain and the United States, that enemy is the dead white male and his “imperial” tradition. Lacking such a history, the Irish chatterers have singled out the most powerful force of tradition within their own country, and that just happens to be the Catholic Church. The Church that is pounded daily in the media is not the one that shaped the Irish spirit and “saved civilization” but the one that slowed the sexual revolution. Da noive!

At the present rate, Irish cultural mavens will soon enough be treating Saint Patrick the way ours treat Christopher Columbus—that is, as the bad guy who imposed an oppressive Christian regime on a carefree indigenous paradise.

Scarcely a day goes by that the state owned broadcast media and the two major newspapers do not recall some injustice, real or imagined, past or present, and carry on about it. The chatterers encourage this historically stoic people to grouse and point fingers, and many do.

One typical afternoon on national talk radio I listened as caller after caller recounted some unpleasantness from his or her Catholic childhood—a slap, a grope, a mean stare, bad food at the home for unwed mothers, indeed the very need for such a home when the rest of Europe was treating itself to abortion and the pill.

Last month in Galway, perhaps to help prod the locals, the arts establishment selected another American import from the progressive imperial catalogue—a vulgar, two-hour whine called “The Vagina Monologues”—and staged it for a second time.

The anti-Catholic propaganda seems to be working. This new generation of rebels has proved its modernity with world class rates of sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, and out of wedlock births--now more than 50% of all births in Ireland’s larger cities. As the fatherless boys reach critical mass without any religious discipline, they do what faithless, fatherless boys do everywhere—they turn to violence. And as in America, the chatterers seem to have no clue as to why.

The Celtic Tiger, alas, has not helped. In the United States, free market forces typically align themselves with the cultural right. In Ireland, they align with the cultural left. Recently, for instance, the media reported the Dublin opening of a huge British lap-dancing enterprise as proudly and shamelessly as we might the landing of an NBA franchise.

Those Irish who resist current trends—and they may still be in the majority—have scarily little voice. The range of acceptable opinion in the Irish media on issues as important as sex, crime, family, faith, feminism, homosexuality, immigration, war, and peace is as narrow as a country lane. At its most orthodox moment, the Irish Church could not have been more oppressive than the contemporary Irish cultural establishment.

To be sure, a country this distinctive doesn’t lose its soul overnight. If the forces of tradition find their electronic voice, they may be able to check the corrosion. In the meantime, the country’s best hope resides with its business classes. They may soon realize that there is more profit in preserving the culture for American tourists than in selling Irish pole dancing to Japanese sex-junketeers



Posted: October 2005
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